Few studies have examined variation in the associations between heat waves and mortality in an international context.
We aimed to systematically examine the impacts of heat waves on mortality with lag effects internationally.
We collected daily data of temperature and mortality from 400 communities in 18 countries/regions and defined 12 types of heat waves by combining community-specific daily mean temperature ≥90th, 92.5th, 95th, and 97.5th percentiles of temperature with duration ≥2, 3, and 4 d. We used time-series analyses to estimate the community-specific heat wave–mortality relation over lags of 0–10 d. Then, we applied meta-analysis to pool heat wave effects at the country level for cumulative and lag effects for each type of heat wave definition.
Heat waves of all definitions had significant cumulative associations with mortality in all countries, but varied by community. The higher the temperature threshold used to define heat waves, the higher heat wave associations on mortality. However, heat wave duration did not modify the impacts. The association between heat waves and mortality appeared acutely and lasted for 3 and 4 d. Heat waves had higher associations with mortality in moderate cold and moderate hot areas than cold and hot areas. There were no added effects of heat waves on mortality in all countries/regions, except for Brazil, Moldova, and Taiwan. Heat waves defined by daily mean and maximum temperatures produced similar heat wave–mortality associations, but not daily minimum temperature.
Results indicate that high temperatures create a substantial health burden, and effects of high temperatures over consecutive days are similar to what would be experienced if high temperature days occurred independently. People living in moderate cold and moderate hot areas are more sensitive to heat waves than those living in cold and hot areas. Daily mean and maximum temperatures had similar ability to define heat waves rather than minimum temperature.